how to cook meatballs

How to cook meatballs – an ultimate culinary guide

Meatballs, burgers and all other dishes with ground meat are always welcome on the table. I don’t know about you, but I am not always eager to eat meat dishes, like grilled turkey or chicken breast, roasted meat and so on. But somehow ground meat meals are always welcome. If you like ground meat, you probably like meatballs. What is great about meatballs is that you can prepare them in many different ways. If you want to spice up your cooking skills, here is an ultimate guide on how to cook meatballs.

First, I will share with you some general tips on cooking meatballs whatever recipe you use. Then I will show you different ways to make meatballs, with different ingredients and cooking methods. As meatballs are popular worldwide, it is no wonder that they are present in many cuisines. It is high time you learn how to cook meatballs the way they are cooked in other countries.

General tips on how to cook meatballs

how to cook meatballs

What makes a great meatball?

The first rule of making great meatballs is to have good ground meat. It doesn’t matter what type of meat you choose, just don’t buy already packed or prepared ground meat. The safest way to buy ground meat of good quality is to ask the butcher to mince meat for you. In that way you will know that the meat consists only of the meat parts you wanted. Meatballs will be juicer if you choose meat with 20% fat.

As for the type of meat, beef meatballs are the best in my opinion but you can also use ground chicken or turkey meat. The choice of meat also depends on the type of meatball meal you want to prepare. Scroll down to see the best meatball combinations.

Apart from meat, what also makes a great meatballs are the spices. Salt and pepper are the must have ingredients but that’s not all. Here is a complete list of ingredients to use to make a great meatball:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Onion
  • Parsley (or any other herbs of your choice) 
  • Egg
  • Breadcrumbs 
  • Baking soda

These are basic ingredients for meatballs but you can also add paprika, chilli powder, parmesan, garlic, cumin, depending on the meal you are cooking.

How to cook meatballs with sauce?

You can cook meatballs with or without sauce but whatever way you choose, you need to cook meatballs first. If you cook meatballs with sauce it may happen that the meatballs won’t be cooked enough. That’s why it is safer to cook meatballs first. Once they are brownish enough, put them in the sauce and cook for a few more minutes.

Do you cook meatballs before putting them in the sauce?

The answer is Yes. You can cook meatballs separately and put them in sauce for the last five minutes of cooking. Or you can cook them just until they are brown and crispy, and then leave them in the sauce to simmer for about 15 minutes.

How do you know if meatballs are cooked?

Don’t make too big meatballs or they may not be cooked well. Small or medium sized meatballs should be cooked after 15 minutes, if you cook them on the stove. If you bake meatballs, it may take longer, about 30 minutes. The alternative way to check if meatballs are cooked is to cut one and see if the meat is still pink. It is safe to assume that other meatballs are cooked if they are the same size and they are cooked for the same period of time.

How to cook meatballs without burning them?

Use a non-stick pan or a cast iron skillet so the meatballs don’t burn easily. Cook meatballs at medium heat, and add more oil if they start to burn. 

Cooking meatballs with various cooking methods

how to cook meatballs

Is it better to bake or fry meatballs?

Fried meatballs are juicer but also oily, whereas you don’t need to use oil when you bake meatballs. Both ways can give you tasty meatballs, but in the end it depends on your preferences. If you watch for calories and tend to eat healthier, baked meatballs are the better choice. Also, when you bake meatballs you don’t need to stay by the stove all the time.

How to cook meatballs in the oven?

If you cook meatballs without sauce, put them on a baking paper and bake them at 200 to 220 degrees Celsius. You don’t need to turn them around as they will be baked equally from all sides. Check your oven and choose the traditional mode of baking, without fan.

How to cook meatballs on a stove?

As explained above, you should cook the meatballs first and then to put them in the sauce, if you use it. Cook meatballs at medium heat on a pan that doesn’t stick. If meatballs are starting to burn, reduce the heat and add additional oil. Flip the meatballs on all sides so they are equally cooked. When you cook meatballs on the stove, you shouldn’t leave them unattended. 

What are the different types of meatballs?

Italian – these meatballs found their way to America where they are widely popular. But, Italian meatballs are never served with pasta. They are usually made with a mix of ground beef and pork, together with all the basic ingredients such as egg, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, parmesan, onion. Italian meatballs are baked in the oven and then served in tomato sauce.

Americanspaghetti and meatballs is probably one of the most popular meatball dishes, and it is actually an American way of eating Italian meatballs. The taste is similar to spaghetti Bolognese, but instead of meat that is a part of tomato sauce, you have Italian meatballs covered in tomato and served on top of spaghetti. 

Greek – Also called keftedes, Greek meatballs are my favorite one. They are traditionally fried but you can also bake them in the oven. Greek meatballs can be served as an appetizer with tzatziki and pita bread or as a main dish. You can use a combination of ground beef and pork meat and the basic ingredients for the meatballs listed above. Other than that they usually add oregano, mint, and red wine vinegar. 

Swedish – It is believed that a Swedish monarch who spent years in Istanbul brough Turkish meatballs to Sweden where they were changed a bit. Unlike Turkish, Swedish meatballs are often cooked in sour cream and meat gravy, and always flavored with cardamom and nutmeg. Sometimes you will find red currant or raspberry jelly served with the meatballs or incorporated into the sauce. 

Spanish – Albondigas is actually a Berber dish which was brought to Spain. Spanish meatballs are usually served with mashed potatoes, and made with ground pork. Aside from the basic ingredients for making a great meatball, that I mentioned above, Spanish also put milk in meatballs like Swedish. Similar to other meatballs recipes, you cook these on the stove and then add them in the tomato sauce. 

Turkish – If you like Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisine, you will like Turkish meatballs. This type of meatballs is usually made with fresh ground beef or lamb meat and features additional spices and herbs such as cumin and thyme. Similar to Greek meatballs, you cook these separately from the sauce and then serve it with pilaf, tzatziki or cold cucumber salad.

Dutch – Apparently, Wednesday is a meatball day in the Netherlands. Dutch meatballs are fried and then served with ketchup gravy. One ingredient that makes these meatballs stand out from others is curry, which is often added to the ground meat mixture.

Polish – Although you can find regular meatballs with tomato sauce in Poland, Polish meatballs are traditionally cooked with mushroom sauce. 

Types of meatball sauces

meatball sauces

One of the most popular meatball meals is spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce. It tastes similarly to the Bolognese sauce. Tomato sauce is made of pelatti, basil, onions. Meatballs with tomato sauce can be served with spaghetti, rice or bread.

Similar to pasta sauces, white creamy sauce is another meatball sauce. Cream, garlic, parsley and parmesan is the perfect combination for your meatballs.

Another white sauce is bechamel sauce and it goes perfectly with meatballs. Unlike other sauces you can cook meatballs with bechamel sauce in the oven and add some cheese, mushrooms (not with beef meatballs) or bacon.

Barbecue sauce also goes well with meatballs, and you can serve them separately. For a stronger barbecue flavor, you can cook meatballs in barbecue sauce.

If you like sweet and spicy flavors, you can cook meatballs in it or serve it as a dipping sauce. Sweet and spicy sauce can be made in numerous ways, you just need something sweet and something spicy. Try with honey, jellied cranberry sauce or pomegranate molasses. Add some chilli sauce or any hot sauce, chilli powder. For extra sweetness you can add some brown sugar as well.

And for the end, here are two more types of creamy sauces that go well with meatballs. You can use either chicken soup or French onion soup mix, and cook it with mushrooms and sour cream. 

What meat to choose for your meatballs? 

If you cook meatballs without sauce, you can use any type of meat. But certain sauces go better with one type of meat than the other. The choice of meat for meatballs also depends on what side ingredients you will use.

Ground beef– it goes well with spaghetti and meatballs, or any similar meatballs meal with tomato sauce. Also, you should use this type of meat when making Turkish or Greek meatballs and serve them with Tzatziki and pita bread. It also goes well with barbecue sauce. 

Ground pork – the same as beef

Beef and pork ground meat – the same as beef

Ground lamb – the same as beef

Ground chicken– goes well with creamy, white sauces, mushroom sauces but also sweet and spicy sauce. You can serve chicken meatballs with pasta, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, mashed potatoes, rice…

Ground turkey – the same as chicken 

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